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10 Blogging Basics I Learned

Plan Your Next Move, June 2011, Ottawa

This blog evolved a lot since I wrote the first post in 2006. I don’t spend as much time tweaking it as I did because it’s time-consuming and, at this stage, I’d rather focus on content. But I learned a lot during the past few years.

I started this blog from scratch and I think I made just about every single mistake possible because I didn’t know anything about blogging. Looking back at screenshots of my first blog, I cringe. I know better now.

To close the All About Blogging series, I’d like to share these 10 blogging basics I learned.

Pick a good URL — I spent about one minute brainstorming for my first URL on Blogger: zhu-canada.blogspot.com. I was briefly proud of it and then spent a year hating it because it wasn’t memorable and didn’t say much about the content of the blog. When I moved to WordPress, I had to pick a domain name. This time, I took it seriously. I settled on correresmidestino.com because the phrase meant something for me and there is a story behind it (see About This). Yes, I know, it’s Spanish and some people may not understand it at first but it’s a good conversation starter!

Tip: Picking a URL is like picking an email address—it may not feel like a major decision but it sticks.

Remove these stupid widgets! — I get it: playing with HTML is fun and empowering at first. We’ve all been there, stacking cute and funny widgets in the sidebar or in the footer. But local time or temperatures, awards received, map of visitors, countdown to whatever, music player that starts automatically etc. can be a real annoyance for visitors. It makes pages slow to load and most of these widgets are pretty useless.

Tip: Less is more: think hard and get rid of useless widgets. Draw attention on your content instead.

Readability matters — If you want to be read, you have to make your blog readable. On my first Blogger site, the content box was light blue and the font was way too small. What was I thinking? Well, I wanted the design to be cool. It’s always best to keep the content area white and use black font (white font on black background is a pet peeve of mine). Or, and paragraphs exist for a reason… please do hit “enter” button once in a while!

Tip: Choose a legible font and please, ditch these handwriting fonts!

SEO does too — I’m not a SEO expert but I learned a few basics. For instead, give your image a title instead of using the default one, such as “D-1234”. Use a sitemap on your site (there are several plugins to do that with WordPress). Link your posts internally. Use “pretty URLs” such as myblog/this-post-is-great rather than myblog/p_25658.

Tip: You can check your global SEO ranking for free on Website Grader.

Who and why or the two basics — When I visit a new blog, I want to know who writes it and why. The About Me page is the one I click on first and it gives me a general idea of what to expect. If the page is entertaining, clear and well-written, I’m drawn to the blog and want to explore more.

Tip: Examples of great “About Me” pages can be found at Latinaish, Gail at Large, 100 Miles Highway, Lovely Awkward and many others!

Tags and categories, too much is too much — The point of tags and categories is to help users navigate the website. I cringe when I see an endless list of tags only used once: what’s the point? Make sure you always spell your tags the same way too, otherwise you will end up with duplicates, such “Funny stuff” “funny stuff” “funny Stuff”.

Tip: A great plugin for tag management is Simple Tags.

Keep up with the updates — Plugins, themes and core platforms are usually updated once in a while for a reason: better usability, improved security etc. Yes, upgrading to the latest version of WordPress is a chore because there is always the chance that something will go wrong. But you still have to do it and trust me, you will enjoy the results.

Tip: Backup your database regularly, with plugins such as WP-DB-Backup.

Don’t annoy your readers — Be nice to your readers because they can make or break a blog. While there are no guarantees that they will like your work, try at least to not annoy them. Don’t put too many intrusive ads and ban pop-up windows altogether. Please, stop using these annoying social media widgets that scream “share me on 20 000 websites!” If you write a sponsor post, disclose it. Basic courtesy towards your readers goes a long way.

Tip: More ads doesn’t mean more revenues. Analyze your click-through rate and take it from there.

Keep it simple — Not everyone is a fan of minimalistic look but less is often more. Ultimately, readers want to see your work and that’s what you need to focus on. Very few people care about the funky colour of your links, the comment redesign that took you two days of work or the latest widgets. Make your work the centerpiece of your blog and keep the rest simple.

Tip: Ask readers for feedback when adding or removing major functions in your website.

Improve what you can and ask for help for the rest — I’m neither a designer nor a coder. Yet I often found myself skimming through pages of php code trying to fix a bug or to install a new function. I’m glad I didn’t pay someone to build my blog because I learned a lot through trial and error. But now, I know when to ask for help (and pay for it) and it makes a huge difference. For instance, I bought the theme I’m currently using and customized it myself. It is well built and it made a huge difference in terms of customizing and tweaking. Plus I can use the great technical support when I screw up something!

Tip: Forums such as Digital Point are a great place to ask for help or find a qualified person to give you a hand.

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